The Long Retreat No. 60

They ran, crashing through the underbrush, until they reached the road. They turned north. After what seemed to Sif like an eternity, Falthejn slowed to a walk. She gratefully accepted her pack from Hrothgar, and winced at the stitch in her side.

“Put your hands on your head,” Falthejn suggested.

Sif did, and her lungs opened up. She gulped down a few deep breaths. Gingerly, Falthejn touched his side, and his hand came away bloody. Sif Frowned. “Are you hurt?”

“Not badly.” Falthejn wiped his hand on his leg and waved off any further concern. “I will be fine. We do need to talk of your future, though.”

Before Sif could reply, Alfhilde sidled up next to Falthejn. “The diviner and I need a word,” she said, “apart from any prying ears.” She pushed on Sif’s shoulder, gently but firmly, and Sif obligingly slowed her step.

Which meant nothing, as far as hiding the conversation went. Alfhilde wasn’t half as quiet as she thought she was, and Falthejn made no effort to be any quieter than that.

“Are the rumors true?” Alfhilde asked.

“I have three or four days before it becomes crippling,” Falthejn replied. “We know of a cure—any of several of the herbs of this region will do—but we cannot spare the time. Once we reach the fort, the army’s physicians will take care of me.”

“If you say.” Alfhilde shook her head. ” For myself, I’d rather have your judgement free from—” she leaned in, and somehow whispered more loudly than she’d been speaking “—poison.”

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